The two candidates vying for the Republican nomination in the 1st Congressional District participated in a candidate forum over the weekend. Rob Blum, a Dubuque businessman, and Ben Lange, an attorney from Independence, did their best to impress voters in Poweshiek County on Saturday morning.
Poweshiek County was part of the 3rd Congressional District until last year’s redistricting made it party of the 1st District. That means Lange, the 2010 Republican nominee, doesn’t have the advantage from campaigning there two years ago like he does in other parts of the district. Poweshiek County is also where Democrat Congressman Bruce Braley grew up and currently owns a home on Holiday Lake.
There was more stylistic difference between the two candidates at Saturday’s forum than anything else. While neither candidate directly criticized the other, there was plenty of tension in the air as the two competed for votes in a quickly approaching primary. Lange repeatedly made the point that he is the best prepared to take on Braley in the fall, while Blum made it clear that he wasn’t running to make a career out of being a member of congress.
Below are my observations from the forum.
Lange: Polished, Confident, and On Message
Lange is a more polished and confident candidate than he was two years ago. Lange’s big advantage in the primary is that he was on the ballot in nine of the 20 counties in the district two years ago. Helping matters even more is that he can make a powerful argument that he almost beat Braley in 2010 and the district is more favorable to Republicans in its new configuration.
When I first saw Lange speak at an event in Goose Lake two years ago, there wasn’t much that caught my eye when compared to the other candidates he was running against. Lange blossomed into a formidable candidate in the general election, and now after coming so close to defeating Braley, he has the confidence that candidates need to take on and defeat an incumbent.
Lange was also on message on Saturday. In addition to making a pitch for why he’s the best positioned to go up against Braley, Lange also stuck to his “Generational Compact” theme of his ongoing district tour and ad campaign. Lange talks about how unfair it is for the current generation to keep indebting future generations by continuing to add to the national debt and refusing to tackle entitlement spending.
Blum: Tea Party Populism, Real World Experience, and Plenty of Red Meat
As a successful businessman and political columnist for his local newspaper, Blum doesn’t lack confidence either. Blum’s resume and life story are impressive. On a professional level, he talked about growing a staff of five with a payroll of $100,000 to a staff of 350 with a payroll of $10 million under his leadership. On a personal level he talks about being a father, high school basketball coach, and surrogate father to Malcolm, a kid from Chicago who couldn’t read in the 6th grade and now has a 3.8 grade point average at the University of Dubuque.
Blum has been able to relate his business background to a populist Tea Part message that stresses term limits, personal responsibility, and fiscal responsibility. If elected to Congress, Blum has pledged that he would only serve three terms. He also told the audience that he would opt out of the congressional pension program, and would only take a salary of $39,000, which is the average national wage. Blum’s willingness to embrace these positions makes him a natural fit with Tea Party activists.
Even though running for Congress can be a daunting task, especially for first time candidates, Blum is smart to give voters plenty of red meat when speaking to an audience. In addition to talking about term limits, Blum also railed against the EPA, making the Bush tax cuts permanent, eliminating the death tax, and highlighting his pro-life beliefs. Blum did a good job by providing a lot of substance on a number of issues.
No Love for Speaker Boehner from Blum
At points in the candidate forum, it seemed like Blum was painting Lange as a candidate who wants to get elected to Congress so that he could make a career out of it. In doing so, Blum also ripped the current Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner.
Blum said that what matters most is what type of candidates we send to Washington D.C. He said that you have to know what their motives are, because far too many politicians get elected that go along to get along after “Boehner has them over for coffee and convinces them on what they need to do.”
Blum’s anti-Boehner talk might help him with some anti-establishment voters in the primary, but it won’t help him in the general election when he will need the help of national leaders if he wants to have a real shot at unseating Braley. Being critical of Republican leadership isn’t going to help him advance his agenda either. Again, the tough language plays well with some voters, but it creates unnecessary problems down the road.
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